By Laura Cofsky

 

As The Guardian reported back in September, 26-year-old wife and mother Nevin Yildrim of Turkey was simply trying to cleanse her honor. Impregnated by her repeat rapist, with no protection from a community that was aware of the rapist’s exploits, Yildrim snapped and turned herself in to police.

She was a murderer—she had not only killed her rapist, but brought his head to a local coffee shop.[1]

Whether you agree or disagree with Yildrim’s actions, her motives arguably sprung from a culture in which women come last.

“Honor” is a concept that runs deep in the nation of Turkey. But in light of recent events, women’s rights activists are arguing that the environment for women is all but honorable.

While Turkey has a low rate of reported rapes—less than one percent of the population can expect to be a victim—there are not many safeguards for those who suffer.[2]

For a long time, the government has discussed banning abortions, regardless of whether rape or health problems enter the equation. Right now, abortions are limited to the first ten weeks, twenty weeks for medical emergencies.[3]

Turkey’s legal system also allows significant leeway for offenders. Although Turkey has adopted laws in the past decade that, considering its past, are “groundbreaking,” rapists can take advantage of a variety of loopholes. For instance, if a rapist can prove that the victim “provoked” him/her, the rapist will qualify for a shorter sentence.[4]

Beyond that, a United Nations article highlights that the population generally distrusts the country’s police force, and that, even within the confines of the law, officials cannot always be trusted.[5]

Furthermore, in many provinces, the cultural norm is still to sell victims to the rapists and the rapists’ families. This is a matter of “honor.” A woman who is “tarnished” must be brought to the perpetrator so her family can be cleansed.

One recent case occurred in October. Fortunately, a witness reported the rapist to the courts. However, courts forced the victim, Emine, back with the parents that tried to sell her to her rapist.[6]

And in the case of Yildrim, even if the whole community knows about a rape—her rapist allegedly bragged to his friends about the incidents, and the town would whisper behind her back—the support just is not there.

There is another question we must consider: if rape is so poorly dealt with, is it safe to assume that most are not even reported?

Let’s consider another related issue in Turkey—domestic violence, which, as with rape, disproportionately targets women. Forty two percent of women aged fifteen to sixty can expect to experience domestic violence in the cities. In the suburbs, that statistic rises five percentage points. In the south, it’s one in two.

Yet, only eight percent of the victimized women seek help.

The situation is getting worse. As the parliamentary Human Rights Commission noted, violence against women has doubled in Turkey since 2008, and nearly one thousand women are killed each year.

There is hope for domestic abuse victims. A law was passed in 2012 to help combat domestic violence and give victims protection. Hundreds have already sought protection under this law, although some regional police forces take a narrow view of the law, making it difficult for some to seek protection.[7]

Nevertheless, Turkey still has far to go if it really wants to help its domestic violence victims. And for rape victims, even when they do speak, Turkish society is not set up to help them.

Until Turkish society can better handle rape and domestic violence, victims like Yildrim will be left with nowhere to turn.

Laura Cofsky is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, studying English literature. Upon graduation, she hopes to become a journalist.


[1] Elif Shafak, “Rape, Abortion and the Fight for Women’s Rights in Turkey.” The Guardian, 9 September 2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/sep/09/reape-abortion-fight-womens-rights-turkey

[2] “Comparisons of Crime in the OECD Countries.” Civitas Crime, 23 February 2013. http://www.civitas.org.uk/crime/crime_stats_oecdjan2012.pdf

[3] Elif Shafak, “Rape, Abortion and the Fight for Women’s Rights in Turkey.” The Guardian, 9 September 2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/sep/09/reape-abortion-fight-womens-rights-turkey

[4] Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, “Turkey: Domestic Violence, Including Regislation, State Protection and Support Services.” The United Nations Refugee Agency, 28 May 2012. http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/topic,45a5fb512,45a5fb6e2,4feae0352,0,,,.html

[5] Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, “Turkey: Domestic Violence, Including Regislation, State Protection and Support Services.” The United Nations Refugee Agency, 28 May 2012. http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/topic,45a5fb512,45a5fb6e2,4feae0352,0.html

[6]Ceylan Yeginsu. “Turkish Honor Code Allows Legal Sale of Daughter to Rapist.” Global Post, 5 October 2012. http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/rights/turkish-honor-code-allows-legal-sale-daughter-rapist

[7] Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, “Turkey: Domestic Violence, Including Regislation, State Protection and Support Services.”

 

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